WASHINGTON, D.C. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve and Jordan's ambassador to the United States, Marwan J. Muasher, welcomed in the 23rd annual Festival of Lights last Wednesday night at the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors' Center.
Guests attending the lighting ceremony, which has become a tradition in the nation's capital, packed the newly completed 540-seat theater at the visitors center. Hosted by the International and Government Affairs Office of the Church, invited guests included the LDS Congressional delegation, and diplomats and ambassadors from more than 40 countries including Egypt, Turkey, Belarus, Bosnia, Guatemala, Honduras, Nigeria, Norway and Russia.
Peace and tolerance became the night's theme.
Elder Oaks quoted Islamic scripture in his prepared remarks and also explained the Church's ever expanding role on the international scene. He said, "Our Festival of Lights is symbolic of an enlightened brotherhood under God's power and divine direction, which we pray will prevail in a world often darkened by dissension, division and hate. The symbol of light and light itself transcend all borders and barriers, national and personal. . . . In The Church of Jesus Christ we have sought to act upon our feelings of tolerance and love for all people in our international program of humanitarian assistance."
Elder Oaks continued, "As we all understand, and as noted so often in these ceremonies, the prophets of all ages have referred to light as a representation and a characteristic of God. The Koran teaches that 'God is the light of the heavens and the earth.' "
Ambassador Muasher prayed for resolution to the unrest in the Middle East: "We ask that your light which was shown unto the world from the Holy Land 2,000 years ago may shine there again for eternity. We pray for an everlasting era of light and peace."
Muasher noted that Islam considers Jesus Christ a divinely inspired prophet, and that his country of Jordan is among the Middle East places where "Jesus Christ walked, preached and was baptized." But he said, "The Middle East, which has been a sanctuary for all peoples and religions throughout history, is today ravaged with strife. Jerusalem, which is supposed to be the city of peace, is today at the center of critical and religious conflict."
Continuing he said, "I hope the new millennium will bring a new commitment by all of us to redouble our efforts so that the region can once again live in peace, so that Jerusalem can be shared by all the adherents of all the Abrahamic faiths Christians, Muslims and Jews and once again serve as a symbol of peace."
During the event, Emmy-award winning composer Kurt Bestor and the International Children's Choir from Salt Lake City performed for the audience with a 25-piece orchestra, which included National Symphony Orchestra violinist Jenny Oaks Baker, and the 100-member Mormon Choir of Washington. The program included the children's choir singing the Arabic song, "Tasta Hindi," and Brother Bestor talking in Serbo-Croatian with Bosnian Ambassador Igor Davidovic (Brother Bestor served a mission in Yugoslavia) before performing a song for peace he said was inspired by conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.
The ceremony kicks off the monthlong Festival of Lights at the visitors center and attracts nearly 300,000 Washingtonians annually.